‘‘I proved to the country that Shakespeare can be masala…’’ -vishal bhardwaj

चवन्‍नी के पाठकों के लिए विशाल भारद्वाज का इंटरव्यू बॉक्‍स ऑफिस इंडिया से....

Vishal Bhardwaj in a no-holds-barred interview to the Box Office India team
BOI: Let’s start with Ek Thi Daayan. How did it happen?
Vishal Bhardwaj (VB): The director Kannan (Iyer) has been a friend for a very long time. Actually, he was supposed to make a film for Ram Gopal Varma, even before Satya. Ramu introduced us. So we became friends. Even though that film got shelved, we remained friends.After that, I made seven to eight films but Kannan didn’t make a single one. That’s because he was looking for the perfect script, which didn’t exist. So I proposed that we make a film together. I had read this short story written by Mukul Sharma, who is Konkona’s (Sen Sharma) father, a great writer. I loved that short story. I gave it to Kannan and he developed it. That’s how it all started.
BOI: The film has a very interesting cast. What went into the casting?
VB: Emraan (Hashmi) was our first choice. We narrated it to him first since he suited the role, commercially and in terms of the craft too. But we struggled for the female cast. There were differences between Ekta (Kapoor) and me about casting Konkona (Sen Sharma). Kalki (Koechin) was quite easy to cast. As for Huma (Qureshi)… we had heard her name after Gangs Of Wasseypur. We called her for an audition and we saw that she was extraordinarily talented and we cast her.
BOI: What differences did you and Ekta have over Konkona Sen Sharma?
VB: Ekta didn’t want her.
BOI: Why?
VB: She and I saw the script in different ways. Finally, she had to give in.
BOI: Since this is a co-production with Balaji, what was it like working with them?
VB: (Laughs) I think the real experience will be gauged only once the film releases. Otherwise, almost all corporates are the same. Ekta is a little different because she remains involved.
BOI: There’s a fine line between involvement and interference. Was there any interference in this film?
VB: Yes, there is a very thin line between the two, a very, very thin line between suggestion and interference. So far, it has been suggestions.

BOI: Most of your films are serious, dark films. Why the attraction to this genre?
VB: Maybe there’s a darkness within me that comes out every now and then. I don’t go there deliberately but it keeps coming out on its own. Other than that, I don’t know why I can’t make films like Golmaal.
BOI: Do you watch commercial, masala films like Golmaal?
VB: I stopped watching films like that a long time ago. I met Mani Ratnam seven to eight years ago and he gave me a bit of advice. He said, ‘One, don’t watch other people’s films in the cinema and, two, don’t watch your own films either!’
People might react differently to your film in the cinemas and that might upset you. Earlier, I used to watch every film, first day, first show. He said he used to do the same thing but he stopped. I found that to be an excellent advice. When you watch a film, you form an opinion about it. The film either works or doesn’t, and, usually, films I didn’t like and thought wouldn’t work, turned out to be blockbusters! Thus, you lose your confidence and feel that you cannot gauge the audience’s likes and dislikes.
Sometimes, a certain negativity creeps in within you since the prediction becomes your wish. But, regardless of how fair you want to be, sometimes you end up wishing a film doesn’t work. It’s human nature. Sometimes, you don’t like the film or you don’t like someone, so you wish the film doesn’t work. I wanted to do away with that negativity and didn’t want to feel negative towards anyone. So I thought it better to stay away from all this. If someone insists that I watch a certain film, I watch it.
BOI: But doesn’t it stop you from growing as a technician or a filmmaker?
VB: I hardly think that the kind of films that work can teach me something about filmmaking! They can teach me how to be less intelligent, which I don’t want!
BOI: Sometimes, you have to watch bad movies to know what not to make.
VB: No, but then I will never be able to make my kind of films! Because it will keep teaching me, again and again, not to make my kind of films! (Laughs)
BOI: Back to Ek Thi Daayan… This is a film you have produced. What is the difference between the films you direct and the ones you only produce?
VB: To be honest, I have started getting very irritated. At times, I give so much to these films as a producer that I feel it’s better to direct them myself. With first-time directors, you are always protecting them from the money men and different kinds of pressures. He always needs your support. You are always wondering if he’s doing the right thing.
This experience actually came from No Smoking, which I produced. I produced the film because Anurag (Kashyap) was very low at that time in his life. He came to me on the sets of Omkara. He was very emotional and upset that he had got John Abraham’s dates but no one was giving him money to make that film. I told him either he was lying or something was very wrong. So he made me speak with John. Kumar-ji (Mangat) was on the sets, so I introduced them. Kumarji listened to the subject, and he agreed. I said I didn’t want to have anything to do with the film and said they could go ahead.
Two months later, Anurag told me if I wasn’t involved, he wouldn’t direct the film and Kumarji said if I was not involved, he wouldn’t produce the film because they both had extremely different perspectives. That’s how I came into the picture. But I was at the receiving end of all the flak. After the film’s release, everyone questioned my involvement in the film. People even said, ‘Was he asleep when the film was being made?’ At the time, Anurag didn’t have the reputation he has now, so I was at the receiving end. That’s when I decided that I would only produce films that I write myself. If they don’t work, I will still own them. That’s why I worte Ishqiya, then Dedh Ishqiya and then Ek Thi Daayan. So, from now on, I don’t want to produce films for anyone other than myself. But it really pains me since I have to invest more energy than required.
BOI: What do you plan to work on next?
VB: I am very confused. I have five to six subjects but I don’t have the time. Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola released on January 11. Then I jumped into Dedh Ishqiya, and then immediately Daayan promotion started and the post-production and everything kept me busy. I cannot find the space to think. It’s not that I don’t have ideas; I need to choose which one to make into a film. I think I will decide in a month.
BOI: Is Shakespeare also on the radar?
VB: Yes, many Shakespeares!
BOI: How important is it to have a star on board for any film?
VB: It’s the most essential thing. You can’t live without stars. You need money to make your films, and if you don’t have a star, you will not get the money you need and then you will have to compromise your vision. It’s a very important decision for a director to make. Does he want to compromise his vision and make films with a non-star or to broaden his vision and make films with stars, to get more funding for his film? Stars are only needed so that you can raise more money.
BOI: Every film has its own brand. Sometimes, even a director can be the star. So if you are a brand, why can’t you get…
VB: (Cuts in) We are always told this after the film is released. When we try to raise money, they always need a star. At that moment, we are not stars. Post release, they tell me, people watched a film because of me; I didn’t need a star. But when I ask the same people for money, they tell me they need a star.
BOI: Are these double standards?
VB: No, not double standards. When you invest money, you are insecure. If you’re not investing, you can say anything. You have nothing at stake and you can afford to be philosophical, intellectual, large-hearted.
BOI: Can you tell us about your long association with Gulzar?
VB: I feel proud when I say that I am the only composer who has worked most with Gulzar saab and have the greatest number of songs with him. Not even Pancham da, although I think Pancham da was greater and a better composer than I am. Of my 30 films, 26 were with Gulzar saab, plus non-films and TV series. We have made more than 200 songs together.
BOI: Do you believe his writing evolved with the changing times?
VB: For a few years after the release of Maachis, people started saying that if filmmakers wanted me in a film, they would have to take Gulzar saab too. And at the time, people were very wary of him. They didn’t want to take him. But once he wrote the songs of Dil Se, especially Chaiyyan chaiyyan… After that song, look how well the man is doing. All his songs, from Kajraare, to Beedi, to Saathiya… he has a different stroke in every film. And now Yaaram or Dhan te nan… He is a living legend.
BOI: What goes into the making of these songs? Do the lyrics come first or the music?
VB: Earlier, it was very clear but now it’s not because we work in tandem. Even when we are travelling, I suggest a tune, he suggests some words for it; he gives me some words again and I change the tune… and we keep going back and forth. So at the end of the song, it’s hard to tell who started the process.
BOI: How do you balance that?
VB: I think every director has his own way. Some directors work better when they are in that aura. I see them as characters, not as stars. Everything else is manageable. They might ask many questions but it is up to you to convince them or get convinced.
BOI: Earlier, we had either art cinema or commercial cinema. Now we have so many different kinds of cinema. We have a Vishal Bhardwaj type of cinema, Anurag Kashyap type of cinema… Everyone has their own style. Can you comment on that?
VB: I think we are in the best of times. The divide of that art-house cinema has diminished. Otherwise, where would you see films like Vicky Donor doing well and winning so many awards, and Rowdy Rathore doing well at the same time?
We are in the best of times. No one can complain. You can raise money for any kind of film. With actors like Irrfan, Tabu, Naseer saab, I was still unable to raise any money at the time. IDBI rejected my loan application for Rs 1.5 crore. My friend Manmohan Shettyji told me, like a well-wisher, that he had saved me by not clearing my loan. He asked me how would I raise Rs 1.5 crore for a film with Tabu, Irrfan and all. ‘I did this for your own good. I thought I was doing you a favour by not passing your loan. I didn’t want you to lose your house. So I cancelled your loan.’
But look how things have changed in eight to nine years! Now if I have Irrfan or Tabu, I can easily raise up to Rs 15 crore. And why me? Nowadays, even a newcomer can raise that much money for his film. Times have changed because people have started coming to theatres. Multiplexes have brought people out of their homes to cinemas. Today, we have audiences for any kind of cinema.
BOI: Another thing that has changed drastically in the last few years is the role of marketing and promotion. What’s your take on that? Is it a good thing?
VB: I think it’s a good thing. But every good thing has a bad side to it. Sometimes, they go overboard. So if the budget of a film is Rs 7 crore, they spend so much extra on it that it becomes Rs 14 crore and they weep later. So there needs to be more innovative marketing. It’s not like kisi newspaper ka front page le liya. Ek toh it’s a shame that news is being sold these days. Sharm aani chahiye.
BOI: Jo bech rahe hain unko ki jo khareed rahe hain unko?
VB: Nahi jo bech rahe hain unko! Khareedne wala has no option but to buy. A filmmaker will look for ways to promote his film and this is just another option for him. Who knows that it’s Medianet? Only the people from the industry. Outsiders don’t know what Medianet is.
BOI: Apart from filmmaking and promotion, are you clued in to trade-related news and collections?
VB: Sometimes, I get messages. Otherwise, I have stopped reading trade magazines, because although I want to live in this industry, I don’t want to be of this industry. So many things change within you and you can’t think out of the box. You don’t realise when exactly you got caught up in the rat race. That’s why I stopped watching TV and films and reading magazines. It’s better to remain in your own world.
BOI: As a producer, do you keep budgets in mind?
VB: Yes, and now I am realising this more and more. My kind of films should be made on a 30-per cent smaller budget. Only then will they become commercial. I am going to implement it too.
BOI: When you approach stars, do they reduce their price for you?
VB: It depends. If you are really desperate to make the film and someone has just walked out of it, you don’t have the power to negotiate. The worst is if you go to them with one of those corporate guys. They see them and say, ‘This actor had charged so much from my last film.’
BOI: Most of your films are based on books. Any reason?
VB: The most intelligent person is a fool who knows he is a fool. And he’s a fool if he believes he isn’t, when he is. So if I see material that I think is better than my work, I take it. It’s simply a craving to do good work. So if Shakespeare has been worshipped for 400 years and I can’t write like him, I adapt his work.
BOI: Earlier, the audience was not ready to watch films adapted from books.
VB: (Cuts in) Manmohan Shettyji ne ek aur salah di thi mujhe uss din. He said, ‘If you get to make Maqbool, don’t write  that it is based on William Shakespeare’s work.’
Yes, anything literary was considered boring, uninteresting and non-commercial. But I proved that wrong. I proved to the country that Shakespeare can be masala, and heroes in Shakespeares’s work can abuse openly.
BOI: Why doesn’t Dedh Ishqiya feature Vidya Balan?
VB: The baggage of Vidya would have made sure that these two characters wouldn’t have flirted with anyone else. The other characters would have had to be cautious of Vidya. It was like the adventures of Babban and Khalu. Vidya has done such a great job.
BOI: Will we see more in the Ishqiya franchise?
VB: That depends on Abhishek (Chaubey), since it’s his baby. He tried to do many things in between but nothing materialised. So we did Dedh Ishqiya.
BOI: When you look back, what do you think of your journey so far?
VB: Now I get more love from the industry and I think I have become a branch of this tree. Earlier, I used to feel like I was tied to a branch, but now I have become the branch. I am really fortunate that I am a filmmaker and part of this industry.
BOI: Do they love you now that you have become successful?
VB: (Laughs) No, they love me despite the fact that I have never had a big commercial success. But still I am sitting in your office here and giving this interview

Comments

Amit Gupta said…
Thanks a lot for sharing sir :-)
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